Bath has long been a favourite destination for both domestic and international visitors. A great many of these tourists however have traditionally been day trippers, arriving from London either by train or on a coach tour that often takes in Stonehenge and Windsor, leaving just about enough time in Bath to go to the loo and grab a sandwich.
The biggest challenge for the city appears to be in persuading the tourists to stay overnight and take a little time to experience some of the many attractions that Bath has to offer. And there is much to see and do in a city whose importance has ebbed and flowed for the last 2000 years and which is now firmly on the list of top UK destinations.
What to See in Bath
The Roman Baths
A visit to the remains of what was one of Roman Britain's most impressive sites is a must on any trip to Bath. Almost 2000 years ago the area around the Abbey would have been a hub of activity with the warm muddy waters attracting religious pilgrims and the Roman elite. These days visitors can wander around the reconstructed King's Bath and explore the dark maze of underground passageways that were actually at street level in Roman times.
There is a very good audio guide to accompany the tour, narrated by everyone's favourite travel companion Bill Bryson and popular TV anthropologist Dr Alice Roberts.
Tickets are £12 (£12.50 in July and August) and include the multi-lingual audio tour. Allow two hours to do the Roman Baths justice.
The Fashion Museum
Home to one of the best collections of historical and modern dress in the country, this is a must see for anyone with an interest in fashion. Collections on display tell the story of the changing fashions from Bath's Georgian heyday and the more contemporary sections contain many familiar items from the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Entrance is £7.25 although a combination ticket with the Roman Baths costs £15.50; a good deal if you plan to visit both sites. National Trust members are entitled to free access.
The Jane Austen Centre
This recent addition to the Bath tourist circuit is always likely to draw the fans of the famous novelist and Bath resident. She was by all accounts not very fond of the city and in particular the social climbers who dominated the scene in her time. She did however base four of her six novels to a greater or lesser extent in Bath, and this is reason enough for the city to try and cash in on her fame.
A visit to the centre involves several encounters with people in period costume, a 15 minute biography delivered by one of these characters and then access to several small rooms displaying exhibits linked to Jane Austen's Bath. One for the enthusiasts, I would say.
Admission to the Jane Austen Centre is £7.45
Bath Abbey has been a site of Christian worship since the early Saxon years. It has survived conflicts, reformation and even the war (although it was damaged during the German bombing of 1942). Take the chance to do the Tower Tour in which you can climb the 220 steps onto the roof of the church for spectacular views over the city. Admission is free (although we were asked to make a donation at the entrance by a rather stern lady). The Tower Tour is £6.
Perhaps Bath's most recognisable rows of terraced houses, the Royal Crescent along with The Circus nearby are some of the finest examples of Georgian architecture. Both offer splendid photo opportunities. Visit no.1 Royal Crescent for a look at what went on inside these houses during the 18th century. Displays include a Georgian kitchen where a spit-dog was used in what can best be described as a hamster-wheel to work the spit and help create the perfect roast dinner. Access to The Circus and Royal Crescent is free. Admission to no.1 Royal Crescent is £6.50.
Herschel Museum of Astronomy
A small museum that is worth a look if you have an interest in astronomy is the home of William Herschel. You can watch a surprisingly funny video of Herschel's life (narrated by Patrick Moore) and then wander around his home. Pride of place goes to the several telescopes on show in the museum. Admission is £5.
'Taking the waters' in Bath
One of the pleasures of a visit to Bath is without doubt the chance to soak in its warm mineral waters. If you've spent a whole day pounding the shops and museums of Bath the Thermae Spa offers a perfect way to ease those aches and pains. The water in the Spa is sourced directly from the warm springs below the city and as a result the water in the pools is a very pleasant 33C.
Thermae Bath Spa Rooftop Pool - Photo by Matt Cardy
You can start your visit with a soak in the open-air rooftop pool while enjoying views of the city roofs as well as the surrounding countryside; the next level down offers four steam room chambers each with a different aroma in which to sit and relax; at the basement level is the Minerva bath, a good place to finish off with a powerful water massage jet and whirlpool. Spa treatments are also available, focussing on therapeutic care rather than beauty sessions. And if this is not enough, Springs Café offers a wide menu of healthy snacks and drinks on site. The greek yogurt, honey and cranberry brulée is highly recommended. Spa sessions start at £25 for a 2 hour session. Across the road the Cross Bath, an small self-contained bath with waters rising from the Cross Spring, can be hired for functions or for private bathing. Where to Eat in Bath
Without doubt Bath's most famous eating house, it has developed a reputation as something of a tourist trap. While it is not a place to go to enjoy fine tea (how can it be when their tea is served in a metal teapot?), they do offer rather tasty lunches and have a surprisingly varied menu. Whether or not you will be able to identify the distinctive taste of the much acclaimed Sally Lunn bun is another matter.
This modern restaurant on Walcot Street offers traditional Italian dishes as well as a few of their own creations. The food is good and prices are reasonable. Good lunchtime discounts are available; check their website and print a voucher in advance of your visit.
Jacob's Coffee House
A good place to stop opposite the Roman Baths for delicious cake and good coffee. Head upstairs and bag one of the comfortable sofas that comes with a view over the Baths.
Where to stay in Bath
For those who enjoy a traditional Bed and Breakfast a stay at Bodhi House will be hard to beat. Owners Catherine and Jamie offer exactly the right level of service (their consistently excellent TripAdvisor ratings are no coincidence). Several little touches demonstrate their commitment to keeping their guests happy (big soft towels, caramel shortbread in the room to go with the tea/coffee) and the variety and quality of the breakfast menu is very impressive, especially as they only have three rooms. Visit the Bodhi House website for details and prices. It's a 5 minute drive from the city centre, but call ahead if you are arriving by train and the owners will pick you up from the station if they can.
Bath is easily reached by train from London in around 90 minutes. Trains are operated by First Great Western and offer a comfortable, stress-free alternative to a car or coach trip. Standard Off-Peak fares are £48.80 return from London Paddington, although if you know your dates ahead of time you may be able to secure an Advance ticket for as little as £19 return. This post is written by Andy Jarosz who owns the 501 Places travel blog. Unless otherwise stated all photographs are taken by the author and are copyright of Andy Jarosz. They may not be reproduced with his permission.
Disclosure: We were hosted by Visit Bath; rail tickets were provided by First Great Western.